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Marijuana farmers consider legal action over agreements with host communities

A group representing marijuana farmers in Massachusetts is planning a lawsuit against the Cannabis Control Commission in an effort to urge them to review controversial host community agreements. PHOTO BY BETSEY GOLDWASSER/ DFP FILE

The Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council announced Tuesday that it is considering filing a lawsuit against the Cannabis Control Commission to push them to enforce the law when it comes to required agreements between marijuana businesses and the towns where they reside.

The agreements, known as host community agreements, are created with a town to establish that the applicant has permission to set up business in that community.

Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, said the law provides towns with the opportunity to collect up to 3 percent of the establishment’s annual gross revenue for up to five years. The town must also account for what the money will be used for and make that information available in the public record.

Bernard said these laws are not being enforced, which is turning the marijuana industry in Massachusetts into a “pay to play situation” that excludes smaller businesses.

“You have small and medium-sized businesses trying to get agreements, and at the same time, big money is competing in those same areas,” Bernard said. “It’s pushing people out of the state, it is bankrupting smaller businesses and it’s making for a monopolistic environment where a handful of players are going to be controlling the whole industry.”

The goal of the Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council in this potential lawsuit, Bernard said, is to make the CCC responsible for ensuring the law is followed in the creation of these agreements. He explained that the CCC voted against reviewing the agreements under the impression that they do not have the authority to do so.

“What we are trying to get accomplished is having the Cannabis Control Commission review these agreements and make sure they are compliant and then go back through the ones that have already been done and strike out any offending clauses,” Bernard said in an interview. “That way, we don’t have to throw a monkey wrench in the works and slow down the whole process.”

If the CCC fails to cooperate, Bernard said, it is only a matter of time until legal actions will be taken.

We are talking to the legal team right now to decide the best course of action,” Bernard said, “but it isn’t a matter of ‘if.’ It is a matter of ‘when.’ I would imagine, in the next couple of weeks, we will probably have something filed.”

Matt Simon, New England political director at the Marijuana Policy Project, echoed Bernard’s concerns over how these agreements are being handled.

“[The agreements] are definitely a big part of the delays and the frustrations that a lot of people have,” Simon said. “If the Cannabis Control Commission isn’t going to review those agreements to ensure that they are compliant with state law, then who will? The answer is, apparently, a judge. That is how this is playing out.”

Simon said his organization thinks the CCC should be responsible for ensuring that these agreements are in accordance with the law.

“It is pretty clear, from our perspective, that the intent of the initiative and of the law, as approved by the legislature, was that these host community agreements be in compliance with state law,” Simon said. “The legislature does believe that the commission already has the authority [to review them], and that’s part of the reason they exist. There shouldn’t be any need for legislative action for them to do this.”

The Cannabis Control Commission refused to comment on the potential litigation.  

Lennie Carver, 68, of South End, said she thought it was acceptable for towns to tax these businesses if the money went toward a related cause.

“I think it’s OK if it was used on drug addiction, opioids, something like that,” Carver said. “As opposed to just going into the coffers.”

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